Nats bats awaken, yet defensive miscues continue to haunt early season

Baseball is a marathon, so being overly critical after one or two weeks really isn’t fair.  Yet, for a team with postseason aspirations, if the defense does not improve, this team will have a hard time even making the playoffs.

Last Sunday vs Philly

After losing the first two games of this series, Washington pulled out a 4-3 win in 10 innings to deny the Phillies a sweep in the series.  Bryce Harper homered, Clint Robinson had 3 hits and Wilson Ramos had the go-ahead RBI in the 10th.  Max Scherzer wasn’t as sharp as he was in his 1st start of the season but he still left the game with the lead giving up one run in 6 innings with 6 strikeouts.  Drew Storen got into a little trouble but was able to get his second save in as many chances in the young season.

Monday – Wednesday at Boston

Opening Day at Fenway Park is always one of the most picturesque scenes in baseball and Monday was no different with an almost perfect scene for the crimes of Red Sox rookie Mookie Betts.  Betts robbed Bryce Harper of a homer, stole 2 bases on the same play as the Nats continued their shotty early season defense, and hit a 3 run homer as the Sox dominated in a 9-4 victory. The only solace of  the game was the return of Jayson Werth to the lineup.

Tuesday’s game looked as if it was a breakthrough fans have been clamoring for, but yet again, defensive miscues in the 7th inning, two errors by pitcher Blake Treinen on one play and another by Ian Desmond, virtually guaranteed their fifth loss in 6 games.  Stephen Strasburg gave up 5 runs in 5 2/3 innings but was off the hook for the loss because of a 6 run rally in the 5th inning which was by far the best inning of offense this season.  Michael Taylor had a bases clearing triple to lead the team with 3 RBIs in a losing effort.

In the last game of the series, the offense continued the momentum from the night before with a dominating performance the likes of what a title contender should produce plating 10 runs across and again avoiding a sweep by a 10-5 score.  Ian Desmond had a solo shot over the Green Monster and Wilson Ramos had a bases clearing double to support Gio Gonzalez (1-1), who gave up five runs — four earned– in 6 innings.

Thursday – Saturday vs Philadelphia

Back home after the week long road trip, the Nats welcomed the Phillies for their 1st visit to Nationals Park for the 2015 campaign.  In Friday’s tilt, Doug Fister pitched solidly into the 7th inning allowing 2 runs on just 4 hits as Home Runs by Michael Taylor and Yunel Escobar and a 2 run double by Ryan Zimmerman as the Nats won the match up 5-2.  Drew Storen pitched the 9th inning for his third save in as many chances.

Friday’s game was probably the most complete game of the season as Bryce Harper hit his 3rd home run to pace the offense and Max Scherzer was able to secure his 1st victory as a Nat in a 7-2 decisive win.  Scherzer has been as advertised through his first three starts since signing the seven year, 210 million dollar contract allowing only 2 earned runs and striking out 25 in 21 2/3 innings so far.  This win marked the first 3 game winning streak of the young season.

Ian Desmond’s physical issues in the field now seem to be a mental hurdle as he committed another error and dropping a ball while trying to complete a routine double play in the 3rd inning enabled the Phillies to score two unearned runs on starter Jordan Zimmermann (1-2) who was unable to overcome the gaffes as the Nationals fell 5-3 to end the winning streak.  This was Desmond’s 8th error in 12 games which, of course, leads the majors.  Bryce Harper absolutely crushed his 4th HR to dead center field estimated at 461 ft and the longest HR to dead center in Nats Park history.

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Nats endure Injuries, Mother Nature and a Roster Shakeup

In a season that is slowly slipping away from its preseason goals and aspirations, Coach Davey Johnson and General Manager Mike Rizzo finally decided to shake up the roster in letting go a couple of the more disappointing pitchers in the bullpen and finally, to the excitement of many fans,  2B Danny Espinosa out of his misery by placing him on the Disabled List with a left wrist injury and lingering problems with the rotator cuff that he decided not to have surgery on last season.  He was given a cortisone shot for his wrist so maybe he could have a Ryan Zimmerman-esque improvement whenever he returns to the big club.  Also, Stephen Strasburg joined Bryce Harper on the disabled list with the strain in his lower back.  Hopefully they will both be back within the next 2 weeks or so.  Also release d were struggling relievers Henry Rodriguez and Zach Duke.  Most Nats fans would exhale and say “FINALLY!” when speaking of the former.  Rodriguez has scintillating talent but it never translated into on the field success and I for one, am glad he has been showed his walking papers.

Tropical Storm Andrea wrecked  havoc on the schedule as well as 2 consecutive games were postponed (Wednesday vs the Mets and Thursday vs the Twins) so the team was only able to play 3 games this week.  In Tuesday’s Game 1 vs the Mets, The Nats completed a 2012-like 9th inning rally as Steve Lombardozi closed out the 3-2 win with a Sacrifice Fly.  Against Mets closer Bobby Purnell , Ryan Zimmerman led off with a double to right-center, barely beating the tag at second. He advanced to third on a wild pitch and tied the game on Adam LaRoche’s single. Ian Desmond doubled and Roger Bernadina was intentionally walked to load the bases with none out for Lombardozzi. . Lombardozzi didn’t get much of the ball, but his flyout down the left-field line was more than sufficient to score LaRoche.  In Game 2, Dan Haren continued to live down his $13 million dollar offseason deal, as he was rocked for 3 HRs and 5 runs as the team was dominated 10-1.

After the 2 day mini vacation caused by Tropical Storm Andrea, The Twins came to town along with former Nat Josh Willingham.  Gio Gonzales pitched well enough to win but shotty defense in the 4th inning, the lack of timely at bats, and a taxed bullpen that consistantly walked the leadoff man in each late inning, which finally cost the team a victory as the Twins scored a run in the 11th for a 4-3 win.  Twins slugger Ryan Doumit smacked a single off Craig Stammen that scored Pinch Hitter Chris Hermann from 2nd base.

Player of the Week:

Denard Span – 6 hits , 1 double, 3 runs in 3 games this week.

Next week

a Sunday doubleheader vs the Twins and a road trip to Colorado for 3 games and Cleveland for another 3 game series.

Lack of clutch plays continue to plague Nationals

After enduring a tougher than anticipated extended West Coast road trip where the Nationals finished up 4-6 on the 10 game swing, coming home to the Eastern Time Zone and completing arguably the toughest part of their schedule for the season, this team is in need of a jolt of energy. Collectively, this team has not hit or fielded the way a playoff contender should and after the 1/3rd mark of the season, this must change and in a hurry.

@ San Francisco Giants – May 20th – 23

In quite possiibly the biggest litmus test of the young season, The Nats had to travel to the picturesque AT&T Park to face the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants shorthanded in the starting rotation as Ross Detweiler missed his scheduled start on Monday with back spasms.  That proved to be a bad omen as Left-handed reliever Zack Duke lasted just 3 1/3 innings in the spot start as the Nats were shut out for the 6th time this season, this time 8-0 . Duke allowed four runs and seven hits in his first start of the year. In Wednesday’s matchup, the team wasted another sterling effort from Stephen Strasburg, who has come out of the slight slump from earlier this year striking out seven and allowing only  five hits in 7 innings. He retired 14 of the final 15 batters — six on strikeouts — and never allowed a runner past first in his last five innings yet the bullpen blew the lead in the 9th as Raphael Soriano blew the save on a defensive gaffe by Bryce Harper let a catchable ball fall bracing for impact of the wall where he was no where near.  Call it being shell shocked from his horrific crash last week.  Yunesky Maya (who was finally designated for assignment by the team on Friday) ended the game by giving up a massive two run homer to Pablo Sandoval completing the Giant comeback, with the 4-2 win.  In the 3rd game of the series, Bryce Harper had his hand in all of the winning plays in a 2-1 victory in 10 innings.  He made the game saving diving grab in the 8th inning and had 2 huge hits including his 12th HR of the season and a 1 out double in the 10th while scoring the winning run on Ian Desmond’s RBI single.

Home vs Philadelphia Phillies  May 25-25

Finally home and able to sleep in the comforts of their respective beds, The archrival Philadelphia Phillies and their sickening fans invade Nats Park for a 3 game set.  In the 1st game Jordan Zimmermann continued what has become his breakout season with another sterling performance in becoming the 1st 8 game winner in the National League giving up only 2 runs which actually RAISED his ERA to 1.71 in a 5-2 win.  Raphael Soriano saved his 2nd consecutive game to give him 14 for the season.  In Saturday’s game, Dan Haren pitched well enough to win, but Drew Storen’s inconsistencies appeared again as he surrendered the losing runs in the 8th inning as Philly defeated the Nats by the count of 5-3.  Drew’s ineffectiveness is most certainly a mental block that he, as a young pitcher, must overcome for this team to really reach maximum effectiveness.

Player of the Week

Ryan Zimmerman – 6 Hits, 1 HR, 4 RBIs and NO ERRORS

 

Next Week’s Schedule

A weird schedule quirk as the Battle of the Beltway commences with 2 games at Nats Park then 2 games at Orioles Park at Camden Yards.  After those games, a 3 games set at the 1st place Atlanta Braves.

For Nats, West Coast trip brings more injuries, more inconsistencies

Gotta be more careful Kid!

For a team that has been ridiculously bad offensively, winning 3 of the 1st 6 games of this 10 game West Coast swing would be deemed a success, but this isnt your normal team.  The Nats right now are in an offensive funk of epic proportions.  28th in the league Runs Scored, 29th in Batting average, 29th in Batting average and 28th in Slugging percentage.  The only teams that match this level of futility in the league are the 2 teams expected to lead the league in losses this season, the Miami Marlins and Houston Astros, YET as we stand, the Nats sit only 1.5 games out of 1st place behind the Atlanta Braves.  The only reason this is even possible is because the pitching staff has stepped up their collective games after a sluggish start to post a team wide 3.20 ERA (2nd in baseball) with 27 quality starts (3rd overall).  Eventually the bats should start to warm as soon as the weather, but this team cannot wait much longer.

May 13-15th @ the Los Angeles Dodgers

As good as the Nats starters have been collectively, we’ve had some bad luck (bad defense, untimely hitting) that has cost the team winnable games, the 1st game of the series wasnt the case as Jordan Zimmermann continued his stellar season pitching 7.2 innings only surrendering 2 runs which RAISED his ERA for the season to 1.69, as he defeated former ace Josh Beckett and the Dodgers 6-2.  Unfortunately, Bryce Harper was on the rough end of an awful crash running full speed into the right field wall which caused a gash that needed 11 stitches and knocked him out of the next 2 games with concussion-like symptoms although the team wouldn’t admit it.  That play will be on bloopers reels forever, sorry Bryce.  The next 2 games, the Dodgers unleashed their two big guns in defending Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw and 2013 Free Agent prize Zach Greinke, who both pitches exactly as you would think.  Kershaw scattered five hits, struck out 11 and pitched 8 2/3 innings in the Dodgers’ 2-0 victory on Tuesday and Greinke pitched 5 1/3 strong innings in his first start since April 11 after coming off the disabled list earlier on Wednesday as Dodgers beat the Nats 3-1 on Wednesday night for the Nats 2nd consecutive loss.  To compound the loss, Catcher Wilson Ramos aggravated the hamstring injury that placed him on the DL earlier this season which lead to his 2nd stint on the DL.

May 16-18 @ The San Diego Padres

Going into this series in San Diego, the Nats had a 2 game losing streak, these are the exact types of scenarios where your ace is supposed to step on the mound and be great and end the streak.  But with Stephen Strasburg in his longest losing streak since Little League and an offense that is sputtering besides a couple of guys, nothing is guaranteed.  Luckily for us, Strasburg was outstanding in his return to his hometown in front of about 50 family members and friends, he lasted a career-high eight innings to snap a seven-start winless streak, and Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche homered to spearhead a 6-2 victory against San Diego on Thursday night.  In Bryce’s 1st game since the Wall Incident, he absolutely demolished a pitch to dead center-field that traveled an estimated 435ft.  In Friday’s matchup, Chad Tracy slammed a game-winning home run in the 10th inning to give the Nats  a 6-5 victory .Tracy’s heroics at Petco Park negated a blown save by Nationals closer Rafael Soriano, who gave up two runs with two outs in the ninth. It made a quality start from Gio Gonzalez, and a two-home-run night from first baseman Adam LaRoche stand up, and reclaim a victory that seemed so certain early on.  An error by Jordan Zimmermann in the 8th inning was ultimately the margin of victory in an outright pitchers duel with 31 year old journeyman Eric Stultz who earned the victory with a 2-1 win.

Next Week:

The Nats conclude the road trip with 3 games vs the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants then return home for a 3 gamer vs the hated Philadelphia Phillies

Player of the Week

Adam LaRoche – .308 avg, 4 HRs 9 RBIs with 8 total hits.  He finally has gotten out of the early season slump that plagued him.  Now if we can get the rest of the offense to trend the same way.

A winning streak then a headscratching loss highlights the Nats week

 

“Untuck Em!”

 

If you were to go into this week under .500,   in 3rd place in the division and not really clicking on any cylinders on the field THEN you go out and win 5 in a row, 7 of 8 but lose Saturday’s game, to only place 1 game behind the 1st place Atlanta Braves, most fans would take that right?  But when that one loss brings up all of the losing characteristics that have plagued the team this season such as ANOTHER throwing error by Ryan Zimmermann (which of course lead to the losing runs), Stephen Strasburg  collapsing after that said error (again), and just not enough offense to compete, you have a fan base thats slightly concerned.

The week started off with 2nd year power bat, Tyler Moore shaking off a poor start to his season with a 3 Run HR in the 8th inning as the Nats defeated the Pirates in Pittsburgh by the score of 6-2.  Danny Espinosa homered and drove in three runs and Gio Gonzalez (3-2) won for just the third time in seven starts after winning 21 games last season.  The team had a day off on Monday in preparation for a 2 game Interleague set vs Miguel Cabrera and the Detroit Tigers. Luckily for the Nats, they would not face the two best pitchers on their rotation in former Cy Young winner Justin Verlander and the undefeated Max Scherzer.  Tuesday’s game would be cancelled by rain which pushed the matchup of Jordan Zimmermann and Nats killer Anibal Sanchez ,  who was 8-0 with a 1.97 ERA in 19 starts against the Nationals while with the Marlins, to Wednesday.  Zimmermann continued his Cy Young pace after pitching 17 shutout innings in his prior two starts, the right-hander allowed one run in seven innings in a 3-1 win .  Bryce Harper connected with his team leading 10th HR of the season. In the finale on Thursday, Dan Haren nearly squandered a four-run lead as Washington’s three relievers had identical lines, each giving up a hit and striking out a batter in an inning in a 5-4 triumph, the teams 4th in a row.  Adam LaRoche seems to have worked his way out of his April slump with 2 hits for his 1st back to back multi-hit games of the year. LaRoche has eight hits in his last 14 at-bats, raising his average from .129 through May 1 to .196.  Rapael Soriano sewed up his 12th save in 13 chances.

A three game set vs the Chicago Cubs would bring back former Nats star Alfonso Soriano, who in his 1 season here in DC holds almost all single season batting records including HRs, Slugging Percentage and Extra Base Hits.  The one player on the roster that will probably be the guy to eventually bring down all of those records, Bryce Harper, did not play in Friday’s or Saturday’s game because of an ingrown toe nail (ouch!!!).  Also sitting out would be Jayson Werth, who has been hampered with a hamstring and would eventually be placed on the Disabled List on Saturday.  Neither of those players would be missed a bunch on Friday as Ian Desmond continued his torrid ways with 3 hits including a 2-run HR and a RBI double. Danny Espinosa and Kurt Suzuki each drove in a pair of runs with a double, helping Washington beat the Chicago Cubs 7-3 for its seventh victory in the past eight games.  Ross Detweiler wasnt his sharpest, but did enough to earn his second win of the season.
Saturday’s aformentioned game continued a bad streak (Strasburg’s losing streak, now at 5), ended the team’s 5 game streak (longest of the season) with a disheartening 8-2 loss.  Ian Desmond had 3 hits again as he has developed into one of the games best shortstops and a keeper for this franchise for years to come.  We are seeing a true leader blossoming on and off the field before our very eyes.

 

Player of the Week:

Ian Desmond – 8 hits in 5 games which included 2 doubles, 2 HRs and 6 RBI’s. He also added a Stolen Base as well.

 

Next Week’s Schedule:

The Nats embark on their 1st extended West Coast road trip as they land in Los Angeles on Monday for a 3 game set, then on to San Diego for 4 gamer which concludes on Sunday

 

Swept by Cards, Nats turn it around in rematch vs Reds

Denard Span with the huge catch in Saturday’s victory

 

As the new week started, The Nats, coming off a 2-0 Loss to lose the series vs the Mets, welcomed the team who defeated them in the National League Divisional Series last season, the St. Louis Cardinals.  A three game series where you would have wanted this team to show some growth, seemed to press at every at-bat and wasted some solid pitching efforts by the starters because the bats just cant seem to get going.  In Game 1, Dan Haren pitched 6 innings giving up 3 runs, not great but obviously enough to win, but not this game as the Cards won 3-2.  It was the teams’ 4 consecutive home defeat.

In Game 2, Adam Wainright was just outstanding, showing everybody why he one of the truly great pitchers in the sport, out-dueling Ross Detweiler (who was outstanding himself, only giving up 2 runs in the 4th) with 8.1 innings of shut out baseball striking out 9 Nationals batters in a 2-0 victory for the Cards.  This was also the Nats 6 consecutive home loss.  The Twitterverse is now losing its mind because this just doesnt look like the team the fans all expected but we all have to remember its not a marathon, not a sprint.  In the series finale, Stephen Strasburg toed the rubber looking to stop a couple of streaks, his personal 3 game losing streak, the team’s 3 gamer, and the 6 game home streak.  He was unable to deliver as after a shaky 1st inning, because the bats decided not to show up again, he was on the unfortunately on the losing end of his 4th straight start by the score of 4-2. A 2nd 3 game sweep at home in a row was not what was expected, but again this is a long season and there is always a new series right around the corner, and that means a 4 game series rematch against the Cincinnati Reds, who defeated the Nats 2 out of 3 just 2 weeks ago at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati .

 

With no day off to wallow in self pity, Gio Gonzalez went out and pitched a masterpiece. In possibly the best pitched game in his career, Gonzales pitched 8 innings giving up only an opposite field Home Run to former MVP Joey Votto as the Nats started off the series in fine fashion defeating the Reds 8-1.   The bats woke up as Denard Span and Danny Espinoza both had 3 RBI games and Bryce Harper hit his 8th Home Run of the season.  With that Home Run, Harper set a new club record with 8 HRs in the Month of April.  He continues to show that he may not just be the best player on the Nationals roster, but right now, playing better baseball than virtually anyone in the sport.

In Game 2, in a pitching duel for the ages, Jordan Zimmermann equaled Gio’s previous start with the number of hits given up (1) yet didnt give up a run and finished off his 2nd complete game of the season besting the Reds, Homer Bailey 1-0.  Jayson Werth drove in the only run of the game in the 4th inning driving in, you guessed it, Bryce Harper who had smoked his 1st triple of the season in the previous at bat.  Zimmermann’s ERA lowered to a solid 2.00 for the season as he improved to 4-1 on the season.  In Saturday’s matchup, Dan Haren finally pitched a performance worthy of a victory, Denard Span made 2 of the best defensive plays of the season to save atleast 3 runs in the process, and Bryce Harper extended his record month with his 9th HR and his 18th RBI in the process (another team record) as the Nats won their 3rd straight 6-3.  Span also had 2 hits on the day and Rafael Soriano pitched the 9th inning for his 7th save in 8 opportunties this season.

 

Player of the Week: Jordan Zimmermann

In 2 starts (1-1), he pitched a total of 14 innings giving up only 2 runs on 3 hits and only 1 walk.  He has been the most consistent pitcher this season.

 

Next Week:

A trip to Atlanta on Monday to hopefully avenge the 3 game sweep of a week ago and our 1st trip to beautiful PNC Park to face budding star Andrew McClutchen and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

 

 

 

2013 Washington Nationals Season Preview

“The truth is you don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. Life is a crazy ride, and nothing is guaranteed.”  – Eminem

Werth’s 9th inning Walk-off in Game 4

This could be the mantra for this years Washington Nationals.  What a difference a year makes.  Going into last season, we all knew they were going to shut down Strasburg in September, a possible Bryce Harper call up in September and genuine hopes of competing for a Wild Card birth towards the end of the season.  What we did get was the best season anyone could have asked for….97 Wins and the best record in the sport, Gio Gonzales winning over 20 games and finishing 2nd in the Cy Young voting, Davey Johnson winning Manager of the Year, Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond with career seasons while winning Silver Slugger awards and the 1st NL East Division title in Team History.  The season ended in heartbreak with a Game 5 9th inning debacle of a loss that hopefully fuels this year’s team for the extended playoff run that most prognosticators envision.

General Manager Mike Rizzo has put together what renowed baseball writer Peter Gammons has called a “SuperPower for years to come” on the MLB Network, Sports Illustrated and ESPN The Magazine has the Nats as the World Series Champion in their respective Preseason predictions, and there is a fervor never seen in DC for this team and rightly so, the Nats are loaded in almost every aspect of the game.  One position of need Rizzo fixed in the offseason was acquiring a slick fielding leadoff guy to play CF, that man is Denard Span formerly of the Minnesota Twins.  His acquisition now moves Game 4 walkoff hero Jayson Werth down to the #2 spot in the batting order and moves 2012 Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper to RF which will alleviate some pressure off the 20 year old to learn a premium defensive position (although he did very well there last year obviously).  Ryan Zimmerman hopes to improve on his masterful 2nd half last year (aka After The Shot), along with All-Star SS Ian Desmond, with the improvement of defensive dynamo Danny Espinoza along with newly resigned Adam LaRoche, the infield may be the most balanced in all of the game.  The Catcher platoon of Kurt Suzuki and the return of Jesus Flores shores up the position.  The lineup 1-8 could have 5 or 6 guys that hit for 20+ HRs.   Harper is the crown jewel of the lineup and after having possibly the greatest individual season a teenager has ever had in the the game, HUGE numbers are being mentioned (like 30+ 100+ RBIs).  Im not thinking THAT big yet because this team is just so stacked, but if he was to have one of those type of season, do not be surprised.  Its a reason he was drafted #1 Overall and given the nickname “The Baseball Lebron”.  Just like Lebron has done in the NBA, he plays the game the right way and you may want to hate him, but once you watch him play the game with the wreckless abondon he shows every game, you cant help but cheer for the kid.

2013 = 1st Full Season of The Phenoms….World Series or Bust?

We know, we know….Strasburg was shut down and who knows what could have happened if he pitched in the playoffs…I know one thing, the guy who took his place in the rotation in the series vs the Cardinals, was BY FAR the best pitcher in the series.  That guy is Ross Detweiler, the player I expect to improve the most this season, which means the Nats again will have the best rotation in the sport.  The only reason Detweiler isnt the 4th starter after Edwin Jackson moved on in the offseason, is the acquisition of veteran Dan Haren to man that spot.  Haren along with Jordan Zimmerman, Gio and a FULL SEASON OF STRASBURG makes opposing managers quiver in their boots, as it should.  One portion of the roster that has perennially been the most solid has been the bullpen and this year shouldn’t be any different.  When you can toss out names such as Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and new closer Rafael Soriano to close out games, more times than not, this team is gonna win….and win big.

Last year, I expected the team to win 81-84 games, this season, I can easily see the team matching the 98 wins of last year, and even eclipsing that mark.  Health and expectations will be the key, last year, the Nats were the Hunters, this year, they are the Hunted….how will the veterans on the team lead this team full of kids….will Davey Johnson push the right buttons? Will Drew Storen forget about last season’s last game and remember the form he had in the month of September….I say YES to all of these questions and I predict a Divisional Crown and a trip to at least the National League Championship series…..and yes they will bring home the first Major Sports Championship in this city in over 22 years!

Natitude…….